Each foot is comprised of 26 bones, 30 plus joints and more than 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments. In fact, nearly one fourth of all the bones in your body……..are in your feet.
With all these muscles in the foot, no matter what shape your feet are, they are incredibly responsive. Even student born with flat feet can develop an arch over a period of time. But why would I care, you ask?
Let’s make our body a temple……and the feet are the foundation of that temple. A teacher can tell by looking at your feet why your back is causing you grief. The ease of our upright body is determined by the alignment of the feet. If the inner arch drops, that drop causes the inner groin at the top of the leg to collapse. This in turn, creates a weakness of the inner thighs that leaves the back vulnerable to compression. Particularly, if one foot drops, the pelvis will be uneven.
Doesn’t make sense yet? Well, imagine the arch of the foot is pyramid like. This in turn creates the Mula Bandha (another arch) of the pelvis. When the foot drops, the pelvic floor drops and the internal organs get heavy. The soles of the feet mirror the pelvic floor.
You have all experienced the action of lifting the toes to lift the arch. That in turn lifts your shin bone, which lifts the knee caps, etc., until you actually feel your pubic bone lift upwards and the pelvis levels. This creates a firmness in the body providing balance and stability. Imagine the pelvis is uneven and dropping to the side. This would be like a pendulum that is never centered.
It takes more, however than just lifting the inner arch. We have to create elasticity and flexibility in the entire foot. Our lifestyle involves more sitting than walking and the wearing of shoes controls the movement of the foot, denying it flexibility. We walk on even surfaces and that too denies the foot movement that encourages us to stabilize .
I have been shocked to hear podiatrists say that you should never walk barefoot. Whaaaat??? This was told to my husband, the flat footed fellow I live with. How does a mere yoga teacher compete with that?
But let’s move on. What actions will improve the elasticity of the foot? Virasana is extremely important. As it stretches the top of the foot, it also forms an arch in the bottom of the foot. In Tadasana, extend your toes when you lift your arches. Shift the weight of your body to impress the heel into the ground and at the same time, extend the toes forward. Don’t grip the toes or keep them lifted to the ceiling.
Forward bends are very important because they are designed to release the back body - we store so much of our history in the back body - creating tight calves, hamstrings, etc., up to the shoulders and the neck. The heel of the foot is THE START OF THE BACK BODY. If the heel doesn’t penetrate, nothing can release.
Think Prasaritta Paddotanasana (wide legged forward bend). Imagine how ineffective your end result would be if the heels don't press down. Also, in this pose, you have to lift the inner ankles/arches and roll that muscle to the outer edge of the foot, thereby releasing the groins.
And many students can attest that their feet have lengthened from sustained yoga practice. This is a good thing. Between pregnancies and yoga, my feet have seriously lengthened.
Besides, yoga, there are simple lifestyle steps to improve the mobility and strength of your feet. Inside the house, walk barefoot whenever possible. You will know if your house is clean…….and if you can, walk outside in bare feet. Walking through the grass barefoot is soothing, and calming for the nervous system as well. And we know how powerful walking along the sandy shore is on our feet.
The footprints below are mine after I got out of our outdoor shower at the cottage. They show a strong lifted inner arch and this is the shape you want your feet to have. They definitely grew over time, but I look at it as being more grounded in a less grounded world.